Dead Man Walking

Happy anniversary to me! Exactly 6 months ago today, I died. If you don't know the story, feel free to read my earlier blog entry where I talk about it. The short version is that I had a severe heart attack and died, twice - as in no pulse, no response, plug pulled, all systems shut down, clinically dead. Both times I was brought back into the land of the living by mouth-to-mouth, chest compressions and having the crud shocked out of me by medical people welding those little electric paddles. I suffered the blue screen of death and got rebooted. Even though I remember none of that happening, it was a life changing experience to say the least. So today I feel like I need to say something about it, about getting a 2nd chance, about the extra 6 months I've been given (so far) and hopefully many more. I don't have anything prepared and haven't thought a lot about what to say; I'll just wing it and if you don't want to read my ramblings, no hard feelings.

I am well aware it sounds weird, but in a very strange way, a piece of me considers what happened to be a gift. It's real easy to say, "Stop and smell the roses" and theoretically everyone knows they should, but few really take it to heart and it's oh so easy to forget with the little day-to-day crap that always seems to come up. There's always tomorrow to spend time with your kids; there's so much stuff that needs to be done at work and there's not enough time to go see that friend. We all get through life knowing that some day we will die, but some day is never today. Until it is. And then it's too late. For most people anyway. Just not for me and the approximately 12 million  other people who peaked behind the curtain and beat a hasty retreat back for a 2nd round of life. And that's why to me, my heart attack was a gift. I've gotten to look into my daughter's eyes for 6 more months and give her lots of hugs and butterfly kisses and tell her goodnight every night and sing her the goodnight song and hear her say, "I love you, Daddy." And I've gotten to hold my wife's hand and give her kisses and eat her cooking and occasionally sit on the couch together just enjoying being next to her and hear her say, "I love you, babe" when we go to bed at night. I've really felt and appreciated each and every time. No taking any of it for granted now or not enjoying the moment just because some bozo did some bozo thing at work and I'm all upset about it.

Don't get me wrong and think I'm now this angel person who never gets upset and goes out of his way to help little old ladies cross the street. I still get pissed at a bozo at work, I still do not like playing kids card games, and I still hate going shopping with my two girls (being with them is wonderful, but shopping with them is pure torture). However, being pissed off at Bozo usually now ends by about 5:01 every evening and I have made myself play kids games with my daughter a few more times and smiled the whole way through. The shopping, well, no, I still don't do that. My God, what do you expect? I'm only human, you know. I have found myself to be a lot more tolerant of people (even the bozo's; well, some of the time), I enjoy the little good things more, the smell of honeysuckle, coffee in the morning (especially when I didn't have to make it), the feel of cool water cascading down my body in the shower after I've gotten hot and sweaty working in the yard. Enjoy more, get pissed less. Not a bad thing at all.

On a different level, another reason I consider it a gift is because I'm really not afraid of dying now. No way am I looking forward to it, but not because it's some big unknown scary thing; I want to spend more time with my family and friends, I want to see my daughter graduate, I want to see more places (so many places, so little time) and meet more people, and I want to see if my Texas Longhorns win another national championship. But dying itself is not that big of a deal to do. It's not something in and of itself to be afraid of. Pain goes away, there's no hot or cold, no anger, no wailing or gnashing of teeth, and you don't think about having to pick up little Johnny after school today and take him to soccer practice or buying the groceries - all of those annoying day-to-day hafta's go away. No, I didn't see a bright light or my dead relatives or hear angels sing. What I felt and was totally aware of was floating in blackness that was comforting and soft and peaceful, no regrets, no longing, and I didn't have any fear at all. I felt safe like a baby falling asleep in their mother's loving arms. There are answers on the next level, answers to questions we think we know the answers to but don't; answers to questions we don't even know to ask. It was so nice. And then, I was being gently, but very quickly pulled back and in the blink of an eye, I woke up surprised as hell to find myself in the hospital and most surprising of all, to find out it was almost 5 days later! To know death is not this thing to be so frightened of brings peace.

I consider it a gift to learn who my true friends are and who truly cares about me. Laying in that hospital bed in a coma with tubes sticking out of me everywhere and looking like death warmed over, well, it could not have been a pleasant visit for anyone. But I had people who came and stayed, people who went out of their way to visit and check on me multiple times, friends and family members who helped my wife and daughter get through the long days and nights when they didn't know if their husband and daddy was going to come back or not. Friends who sacrificed vacation days and drove hundreds of miles to come and stay until I got back on my feet again. Those wonderful folks will never know how much that truly meant to me unless they find themselves needing help and they will find I'll be right there for them for as long as they need. You need somebody to have your back? I got it, my friend. I also found that a few who I thought were friends and loved ones were actually strangers. Hang with me when times are good, but disappear if you might have to go out of your way or use a couple of precious vacation days or drive a few miles. I'm glad to know that about them. Forgive, yes. Forget? I don't think so. When the bullets are flying, you need to know who you can trust.

When I first started to comprehend what had happened, I lay there in that hospital bed thinking, so this is what it feels like to have been on the other side and come back. I didn't have broken bones, but I did have a broken body, a broken life. Will my body repair? Will my life repair? Will I ever be the same? What about me is going to be different than before, different than before my body turned traitor on me. Yesterday I was myself. Today I'm somebody different. It was forced on me. My old me was taken away, never to be seen again. I didn't realize how I felt until I didn't feel that way anymore. And then I so wanted to feel that way again.

So here I am 6 months later, happy to be alive and mentally probably in a  better place, but I still have a way to go physically to regain the old me. I'm not sure that's possible. The old me thought nothing of hiking 4 or 5 difficult trail miles just to see a waterfall or a natural stone bridge; the new me cannot as yet walk more than 1 mile without my body saying that's enough and I can't go further. I have to remind myself that when I first got out of the hospital, walking from the bedroom into the living room resulted in sitting on the couch for 10 minutes just to recover. I used to hate taking any kind of medicine, especially anything stronger than an aspirin and now I take 5 pills every day. I used to never bruise, now, because of the blood thinner medicine, I bruise so easily I often don't know what caused it.

Life is different now, but all in all, it's all pretty good. There are so many others who have it a lot worse than I do so yeah, 6 months after I died, I consider myself to be an exceptionally lucky fella who was given a rare and precious gift. And I fully intend to keep on enjoying it.